In marketing, it seems like there's always a new tactic or trend. It can be challenging to keep up with what's effective, and what isn't. If you're not cautious, you could end up investing a lot of time and energy into a new approach that isn't effective.
Long-form content can seem like one of those trends. First, the best practice was to keep articles short and concise. They were easier to produce, and marketers invested a lot into producing these shorter posts. Now, with the rise of pillar pages and cornerstone content, long-form is regaining a lot of popularity.
As a business owner, you have to wonder - is this just a fad?
Rather than investing even more into developing longer, more detailed content, should you just wait out the trend and keep producing short-form stuff?
The short answer: no.
The Secret To Affordable Long-Form Content
The first thing to understand about long-form content? There's no way to cheat the system.
Outsourcing long-form content to inexpensive or inexperienced freelancers, or churning out a lackluster post just to get it done won't be enough to drive results. So the secret isn't to MVP it. These types of shortcuts may save budget in the short-term, but eventually, the content won't perform the way you need it to.
You'll just end up starting over later, or abandoning the tactics entirely. That's why the actual secret, which is to start with a plan, is so effective. A strategy for your long-form content will limit the number of revisions and edits needed later, guarantee value, and will give you the context necessary to judge whether or not it will perform right from the get-go.
There are a few key components of an exceptional long-form content
One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make in content marketing is not setting a budget. If you're just starting out with long-form content, it's important to evaluate how much the content should cost before getting started. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of your writer, and any other team members involved with the process.
When setting a budget for long-form content, here's a few considerations to make:
The project owners. Who's involved in creating this piece? If a marketing coordinator or manager is planning out the content, and a freelance writer is writing it, what's each of their hourly rates?
How much you want to spend. Figure out a realistic cost by evaluating how much time each person involved needs. For instance, it might take a marketing manager an hour to work on the strategy, and it may take the writer six hours to write it. Calculate the cost so far by their rate, and consider whether or not that's a good budget for you.
And strategy and writing are only two steps. How much time is left for quality control or publishing? Writing long-form content shouldn't be rushed, but to ensure it's affordable, all of the steps and the expected cost for each is important to understand and track.
Any additional expenses outside of writing should be planned out as well. For instance, you may need the budget to promote the content on Facebook or Twitter, or you may want to sign up for additional marketing tools and strategy resources that require a monthly subscription.
Strategic Keyword Research
Whether you're writing a long-form blog post or making a pillar page, the next step is selecting a topic and a strong keyword. Come up with a few potential words or phrases that relate to one of your most discussed topics. For instance, here at Lean Labs, our three main areas of expertise are Growth Driven Design, Inbound Marketing, and HubSpot.
Every post we write or page we create relates to one of those broad topics. Using those broad topics as a North Star, we can brainstorm and start to look for related keywords. HubSpot's content strategy tool is a great place to begin. Using HubSpot's topic clusters, you can plug in ideas for keywords, get their monthly search volume, and related phrases and words that HubSpot recommends.
This tool can organize your entire content strategy in one central place, and help plan out pillar pages and sub-topics. Aside from HubSpot, some of our favorite keyword research tools include:
- Answer The Public (Free)
- Google Recommended Searches
- Keywords Everywhere (free plugin for Chrome)
- FAQ from Customers
Reviewing the FAQ, or frequently asked questions from customers is especially helpful. This way, you can keep the topic of your long-form content customer focused. These questions help marketers tap into the actual day-to-day frustrations that leads are experiencing, providing an opportunity for content with real value.
Frequently asked questions can also be a fantastic resource for coming up with blog title ideas.
At Lean Labs, we believe that with content creation, 50% of your energy should be in giving it a fantastic title. It needs to something that will really grab your reader's attention. There are a few tactics to writing a great title, after you've decided on one strong keyword.
- Evaluate the competition. Use a tool such as Buzzsumo to check out your competition. You can browse Buzzsumo to find the kinds of posts that are driving a lot of engagement for your target keyword.
- Ask Google. Draft a few potential titles, and Google them. You can assess the similar types of content out there, and also reference the "related searches" section at the bottom for more ideas.
- Use uncommon words. You want your post or pillar page to stand out from the pack. Rather than a title that says something such as "10 Great Blog Post Ideas For Startups", consider more unique descriptors, such as "10 Mind-Blowing Blog Post Ideas For New Startups."
- Use emotional triggers. After someone reads your title, you want them to have some kind of emotional response. Mix in words and phrases that command their attention, or create a sense of urgency. A post titled, "X Ways To Stop Writing Boring Blog Content," or "Start Writing Pillar Content Before You Lose Customers," are confident and memorable.
After you've done, make sure you're following the best practices for writing a blog title. The length of the title shouldn't exceed 60 characters, for instance.
Without an outline, a long-form piece of content can go quickly off-track. Establishing a detailed outline helps everyone in the process, especially the writer, stay on the same page about goals. When we write out outlines, there are a few components we never skip over, such as:
- Required Word Count: Long-form posts can be anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 words long.
- Tone of Voice: Do you want the tone to be professional? Conversational? Let the writer know what kind of voice they should adapt, and provide examples.
- Buyer Journey Stage: Writing for the TOFU (top of the funnel) is different from writing for BOFU (bottom of the funnel), even with the same persona. All of your content should be mapped to a specific stage.
- Target Persona: Who is the topic for? Choose the right persona for your topic. If you still need guidance on personas, check out these questions that can help you get to know your audience.
- Goal: What's the objective of the post? What should the reader walk away feeling, or what action should they take?
- Keywords: Set the keyword you're trying to rank for in the outline, so the writer can optimize accordingly.
- Call To Action: Do you want someone to sign up a trial? Download an ebook that elaborates on the topic? Find the right step for the reader to take, and put it in the call to action.
Our outlines also include an actual break down of the post. We determine all of the sections in advance, even for shorter content. This aligns the writer with our thinking, and helps cut back time on revisions later. For long-form content, you may want to go even further, and fully develop outlines with the statistics, facts, and points you want to bring in.
This way, the objectives of the post are crystal clear before any writing (the most time-consuming part) takes place.
Concise QC and Publishing
If you've strategized and outlined your long-form content properly, there shouldn't be a reason for heavy revisions. So unless there are major structural changes necessary, or the writing isn't good, there shouldn't be more than 2-3 hours needed for edits and changes. During quality control, you should review long-form content for readability, spelling, grammar, keyword density, and meta information.
Some quality control and content tools we use regularly include:
- Grammarly - Grammarly can be used to check spelling, grammar, and possible plagiarism.
- Hemingway App - Hemingway is great for analyzing your writing, and reports on the grade reading level, use of passive voice, word count, and more.
- HubSpot - HubSpot can be used to analyze website pages and blog posts. The platform provides SEO suggestions for posts with on-page optimization reporting.
Bonus tip: Don't add too many cooks to the kitchen. Aside from the writer, there should only be one or two editors reviewing long-form content. Otherwise, people may get involved too late and add in unnecessary revisions at the last minute.
Getting The Most Value From Long Form Content
After completing long-form blog content, guarantee it'll be worth the investment with ongoing optimization and promotion. It will likely take 3-4 months for the content to rank or bring in organic traffic, so in the meantime, you should boost content on various channels and share it with your networks. Then, you can start to gain value from it right away.
Another way to ensure you're getting the most ROI from your content is by repurposing content. By repurposing content, we can get more mileage from the assets we've already invested in. For real examples of how we give older content new life, check out our free guide, Repurposing Toolkit: Why & How to Repurpose Content.